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[China] 雍和宫 Lama Temple Vlog

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[China] 雍和宫 Lama Temple Vlog

My friend had just finished med school and was hoping to get into a good residency program. Since we were both in Beijing, we decided to visit Lama Temple to pray for some good luck. It happened to be a special religious day, so the grounds were filled with people. Despite the crowds, there was a quiet feeling of serenity as we walked amongst the beautiful architecture and statues of the gods.

I put together my footage of the day in a video. Enjoy!


Excerpt from Lonely Planet:

The most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet, the Lama Temple was converted to a lamasery in 1744 after serving as the former residence of Emperor Yong Zheng. Today the temple is an active place of worship, attracting pilgrims from afar, some of whom prostrate themselves in submission at full length within its halls.

Music: Album: MV + EE: Live at the OCCII 17/02/2010 Track: 01. MV + EE Live at the OCCII (06:43) Source: http://www.freemusicarchive.org

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[China] The Old Schoolhouse

Mengjinzhuang Village, Hebei Province, China (2013)

I spent this past summer in China, working on a project at Tsinghua University and spending time with relatives. It had been over 8 years since I visited my father's village in Hebei, and I was eager to see the changing rural landscape.

A new schoolhouse was recently completed, donated by a Taiwanese businessman, but the old one still remained standing, abandoned and deteriorating. My cousin Mengmeng led me to see her old classroom where she spent her elementary days. The last lesson remained on the blackboard, still remarkably clear and untouched. Ghosts of child-sized footprints could still be seen on the dusty floors. The walls were covered in posters of heroes of the Communist Revolution, starkly contrasting with portraits of famous Western scientists. Looking up at the ceiling, I could see rows of frozen dinner packages adding extra insulation, attesting to the resourcefulness of resource-strapped villagers. 

As Mengmeng pulled out her new smartphone to weChat with her friend, I realized how much the village had changed in just 8 years. Economic and technological progress is reaching even the poorest rural areas of China, and scenes such as the old schoolhouse will soon be faded memories. 

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The full photoset can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/19nuu52

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[China] A trucking life

[China] A trucking life

When I called Da Jie (my oldest cousin) to tell her I was back in the village, I was surprised to find that she was in Xinjiang – all the way on the other side of the country. “Don’t worry, I should be back in time for the holiday!” she assured me. Da Jie has been on the road for the last 5 years. She travels in a long-distance delivery truck with her husband Da Jie Fu and 19-year old son Leilei. They transport shipments all over China, moving everything from coal to furniture. Since they drive non-stop through day and night, Da Jie ensures that her son and husband stay awake at the wheel during their long shifts.

Da Jie used to be a hairdresser in her village, but after many years, the strain on her shoulders became so severe that she was forced to stop. At that time, Leilei dropped out of junior high and started driving with his father, so Da Jie joined to look after them on the road. Despite it being nice to work with family, things haven’t been easy. “It’s not a good business to be in right now,” Da Jie explained. “The economy isn’t doing well and we don’t make much money anymore. Every year there are fewer shipments and people aren’t willing to pay as much for them.” I didn’t expect to hear that with all the news about China’s growing economy, but Da Jie dismissed the hype. “The government is really good at chuiniu (talking big). Our line of work directly reflects the state of the economy, and the truth is, the majority of businesses here are doing quite poorly.” As soon as Da Jie and her family return from their latest haul, they call the shipment center to be placed on a waiting list for the next load. What used to be only a day’s wait for a shipment is now usually 3 days. Rising gas prices have also been squeezing their margins. A trip to Xinjiang carrying 36 tons of coal has toll costs of 7000 RMB and gas costs of 10 000 RMB. Oftentimes they barely break even or operate at a loss.

Another source of their troubles is the increasing number of railways being built. Railway companies now employ fleets of small vehicles that pick-up shipments from people’s houses and transport them directly onto the trains, creating more competition for long-distance trucks. There are also plenty of dishonest customers to watch out for. While unloading shipments, Da Jie needs to be especially careful. “The companies often try to cheat by hiding items and saying that we’ve lost some of the load. They then demand that we compensate them,” Da Jie explained, sighing over how sleazy people can be. “That can cost us another few thousand RMB.”

Da Jie and her family have travelled to nearly every province in China, driving non-stop through day and night. “We’ve seen plenty, but we never have the chance to enjoy the locations,” said Leilei. He then showed me blurry photos of Sichuan’s wild landscape, Yunan’s Tibetan villages, and the deserts of Xinjiang. “Xinjiang is not a very good place, but we have more shipments there because the railroads aren’t as developed. The Uyghur are strange and we try not to interact with them much. We go there and come back as quickly as we can.” There have been many conflicts in Xinjiang between the Uyghur minority and ethnic Han-Chinese, and many people have been killed during recent riots.

Although there are mounting challenges, Da Jie Fu is reluctant about leaving the industry. “I’ve been driving trucks for over 20 years and I plan to keep driving for at least a few more. After that, we’ll see what new opportunities arise. China is changing so quickly, no one is sure what the future will look like.”

[China] Better times, but still a nongmin

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[China] Better times, but still a nongmin

Like the rest of China, the countryside of Hebei is changing fast. Within the last 8 years, luxury items of the past such as computers and TVs have become commonplace. I was pleasantly surprised to find a wireless connection at my uncle’s house, along with a brand new washing machine. A high speed rail station is being built only a few minutes away.

When I asked family members what they felt the biggest change was for the village, unsurprisingly they answered standard of living. “In the past, there were times when people were near starving,” recalled Da Bo. “I remember having to eat tree bark and grass because there was nothing left. Now there is better technology, better management of resources, and better education. The economy has improved dramatically over the past few decades and we can afford many more things.”

I spotted quite a few new Toyotas and Audis on my way to the market, contrasting sharply with the dirt roads they drove upon. The air was filled with sounds of jackhammering as cramped old homes were torn down in favour of modern ones. Er Jie (my cousin) is in the middle of building her own new house. She took me to the construction site and I was blown away by its size. Within city limits, the two-story building would be considered a mansion. “There are many other houses like this in our village now. We’re preparing for the future in case our sons end up living with us. You must stay with us once it’s completed! We’ll have 3 indoor toilets! With this big house, we’ll finally have room for all our inventory.”

Er Jie and Er Jie Fu (her husband) run a business producing and selling shoulder bags. They create the designs and have them made in a nearby factory. They’ve recently registered their own brand – Bo Rui Di (“Because it sounds like ‘Brave’.”)

Er Jie spends her days packaging thousands of bags and her husband sells them in the nearby town of Baigou. They rent a small stall in a wholesale mall specializing in low-end bags and accessories. Customers buy them in bulk and distribute the goods throughout China and to foreign markets.

Both Er Jie and her husband are up at dawn and work late into the evening. It’s a difficult life and they don’t make much profit (the cost of factory workers is rising), but they earn much more than they would farming. While standing next to a field of corn and wheat, Er Jie Fu explained to me: “Villagers only make a few thousand yuan off their land. That’s barely enough to survive on. We continue to grow crops because it’s a waste to let the land lie fallow, but we are forced to find other work such as selling things, working in factories, transporting goods, or doing construction.” These types of work are usually found in towns and cities, resulting in a massive migration of rural people in search for better paying jobs.

Despite living much better than before, people from rural areas still face many barriers. “Although we are working in the city and running our own business, we are still referred to as nong min gong (farmer workers). Why do they feel the need to attach the label nong min if we’re doing the same work as city folk? As people from the countrysidewe are treated as the lowest of society. No one looks out for us.” Er Jie Fu pointed to the garbage littering the village streets. “Look at all this trash! There is no designated place for it and the government hasn’t bothered to have someone dispose of it. People end up throwing garbage anywhere. Not long ago, farmers didn’t even get medical coverage even though city people did. We don’t care too much about government since village officials aren’t really elected. If it’s been decided by the party, the candidate will win because they have the money and power.”

Local government officials are often corrupt. Er Jie Fu spoke of an acquaintance who owned a metal factory. The factory owner was close friends with a government official in charge of environmental protection, and therefore was unconcerned about fines when his factory polluted the river. In fact, the government official was even given equity in the business.

Er Jie and her husband desperately hope that their two sons will make it into university and create a new life in the city, or even better, overseas. After I helped their youngest son with his English homework, Er Jie said to him, “See your aunt, study hard and you can live a wonderful life like her.” It felt uncomfortable to have my not-quite-figured-out life turned into a 7-year old’s aspiration, but at the same time I could understand. The countryside has seen dramatic economic progress over the years, but in many ways it remains far behind the rest of the country.

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[China] A village life

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[China] A village life

I arrived in my father’s home village of Mengjinzhuang a few days before Duan Wu Jie – a major festival best known for Dragonboat races and for gorging oneself on zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves). Da Bo (oldest uncle) and my cousins still live there, and I planned to stay with them until the festivities were over. When I stepped into the courtyard, I was greeted by Da Ma (uncle’s wife) with a wide smile and open arms. She spoke to me in tu hua (local dialect) and beckoned me to rest inside.

Da Bo finally came home a few hours later after his shift at the factory nearby. He tends the boiler room where he maintains the furnaces and transports coal. He works 12 hours a day with no weekends, often switching between day and night shifts. Although the hours are long and there are many health hazards, work in the boiler room is less demanding than the jobs he’s held in the past. Over the years, he’s planted crops, raised pigs, driven tractors, transported shipments, sold clothing – almost every manual job you could think of.

Da Bo is one of the victims of the Cultural Revolution that lasted from 1966-1976. During that time, the country was in chaos from internal political clashes that resulted in bloodshed throughout cities and villages. Groups of youth (as young as 13 years of age) fought those who supported different political factions. Da Bo recounted what the times were like: “The Cultural Revolution put everything in turmoil. Kids were fighting kids – up in arms over internal political conflicts. Many were injured and even killed.”

The countryside is considered the poor and neglected part of society with limited opportunities for a good future. Due to the hukou system, the only honest way to a better life is through joining the military or getting into university. Da Bo is highly intelligent and there is no doubt that he could have gone far given the opportunity. Unfortunately due to the Cultural Revolution, all schools were closed and Da Bo only graduated with an elementary education. “If I had grown up with your circumstances, how different things would be for me. I’d have a much different life. All these years of hardships…” He still had hints of regret in his voice. “Our family is one of honest intellectuals. In academia, we would flourish, but in this society, we are suppressed. Bad people involved in hei she hui (black society) are everywhere. Here, you can only rise up if you have connections or money to bribe with.”

Da Bo recalled a disturbing scene he witnessed the year before. “As I was driving on the village road, I saw a police car cut off the car ahead of me and force it to stop. A large, burly man jumped out, pulled the driver out of the vehicle, and started him beating him to the ground. The police officer also took part. The victim’s wife started screaming, but was also beaten. People nearby shouted for them to stop, but the men threatened to hurt anyone who looked their way. The victim most likely got on the bad side of a local leader. What could anyone do against thugs like that when even the police are so corrupt?”

Despite having experienced many of his own setbacks, Da Bo has done everything he could to support his family. “My goal in life has always been to make our family stronger. I helped your father find his first job, and step by step he’s climbed. Your Lao Shu has been quite successful as well. While they were away for work and university, I would take care of our home and aging parents. When your cousin’s son was sick, your father helped cover the hospital bills. Despite being so far apart now, we share a deep bond and we always look out for each other. Family is everything.”

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[China] A factory life

[China] A factory life

(Header Photo credit: CNBC)

I’ve come back to the village of Mengjinzhuang, Hebei – my lao jia, “old home”.  This is where my father grew up and where my oldest uncle and two cousins still live. To get here, I traveled two hours by bus from Beijing to Baigou (aside: Baigou is where much of China’s cheap goods are distributed).

On the bus, I happened to sit next to Xiao Wang – a round-faced 24 year old man with an infectious smile. After breaking the ice by offering him a cookie, I asked him where he was headed. Xiao Wang was visiting a friend in Baigou in hopes of finding a new job there. He had been working in a Beijing factory making boxes for the past 2 months and had grown tired of it. “I don’t have any specific job in mind. I’ll see when I get there. It takes about a day to find work, at most 3 days.”

 

Workers looking for factory jobs don’t have to look long. They can be fairly choosey with where they want to work. They tend not to trust postings on job sites since many of them are scams. Instead, people like Xiao Wang prefer to travel to the factories in person so they can see for themselves. I told him he had better job prospects than university students (now factory workers can earn even more than new graduates). “Haha, yeah. University graduates don’t know how to chiku (endure suffering). They think a lot of work is beneath them and are very picky. It must be nice to attend university though – to be educated and learn so much about the world.” Xiao Wang seemed rather self-conscious about his lack of education and humble background.

Xiao Wang has been working for the past 5 years. Originally from the countryside of Gansu province, he left home so he could see what the world had to offer. Since then, he has worked in 3 factories making toys, wrapping, and boxes. “The working conditions aren’t that great, but the larger factories are relatively better than the small ones. There’s a lot of pressure on the assembly lines since others are waiting on you. You also have to be careful since there’s a lot of machinery. The floor managers aren’t that strict. They get paid more but they don’t do much.”

I asked Xiao Wang what his goals were. “Ah…if I ever earn enough money, I would like to open my own shop. I could sell what I want and work when I want.” He then asked where I was from. When I told him, he looked up with a bit of longing and sadness. “Canada! It must be so nice to chuguo (leave the country). People like me couldn’t imagine going so far. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough money to travel there. I just worry about earning enough to get by.”

My conversation with Xiao Wang truly put things into perspective. We are almost the same age and yet in such different life circumstances. Things I’ve taken for granted are luxuries Xiao Wang could only dream about.

Near the end of our trip, Xiao Wang pulled out his smartphone and taught me how to play Angrybirds Starwars Edition. I guess some things are still the same despite borders and circumstances.

[China] A city life

[China] A city life

I spent the past weekend in Tianjin, visiting family I haven’t seen in over 8 years. It was a strange yet wonderful feeling to be so welcomed by relatives I’ve barely known. It felt like I was home again.

My father grew up in the countryside of Hebei with his older and younger brother. Due to the hukou system, rural dwellers were not allowed to move into the cities. Since my grandfather had been working in the city of Tianjin before the restrictions, he was given “city dweller” status, which he eventually passed on to my youngest uncle (Lao Shu). It was Lao Shu and Lao Niang (his wife) who picked me up from the train station. What used to be a 2 hour trip was now a quick half hour ride on the new high-speed train between Beijing and Tianjin. Rapid improvements to infrastructure can be seen everywhere in China.

Lao Shu said my father would always tell him off for playing cards instead of studying hard when they were children. He eventually wisened up at age 19 when he moved into the city, realizing that coming from the countryside (nongcun), he had to work extra hard to prove himself. Lao Shu started at the bottom of the ladder as a meat cutter, but through years of hard work, he eventually became a high-level manager of a large department store. His condo is located only a few steps from the train station due to the frequent business trips he had to make.

I walked in and my eyes landed on the couch where we had posed for a family photo during my last visit. Not much has changed except for the addition of a glowing aquarium full of koi (one of which is missing an eye). Lao Shu moves a lot more carefully though, having suffered a minor stroke a few months ago. The unbearably high amount of stress of his job has taken a huge toll on his body. He can’t feel hot or cold temperatures on his left side, only needleprick sensations. “Retail is a difficult business to be in. There is so much competition and very little profit margin. Consumers are price-sensitive and are more savvy now because of technology. Many stores that you see are actually losing money. Walmart just closed 3 locations. We have to constantly think of new ways to attract customers.”

Lao Shu continued to talk about work conditions: “Companies don’t care about their workers. Despite being a manager, I have the most basic coverage of medical insurance. I had to go back to work within days of getting the stroke because there was no one else to deal with problems at the store.”

The fierce competition for jobs has forced early retirement for many older Chinese workers. The standard retirement age for men is 50, while it is 45 for women. Lao Shu was given a choice between a higher position at a store in a different city or a lower position at his current store. He chose to stay at the current store. “It’s closer to home and right now my health is the priority.”

[China] In the Clouds - Mr. Li's Take on Changing China

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[China] In the Clouds - Mr. Li's Take on Changing China

It's almost been a week since I landed in Beijing and I'm still getting over the jetlag. For the past few days I've been getting settled into my new city: got internet access, bought a phone card, scouted out nearby food sources, attended 2 meetups, tutored my first student, and got lost twice on the way to Tsinghua. Luckily I haven't needed to pull out my smog masks yet.

I've already met quite a few characters with great stories to tell. On the flight here, I had a long conversation with Mr. Li who sat next to me. He was a Beijing native and a product manager for a large tech company, on his way back from a business trip. He had spent a few years in Canada before moving back home, realizing that it was easier to find a job in Asia after the tech bubble. We talked about everything from China's state capitalism, to government accountability, to healthcare. Here are some interesting points about Chinese society and thoughts he had on the political system:

  • State capitalism: China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile are the three state-owned telecommunications giants in the country. China Mobile is state-owned in name, although its operations and organizational structure follow more of the Western style. It has more than 10x the revenue of China Telecom and China Unicom combined.
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  • Medical insurance: Both public and private insurance exists. Public insurance is available to all, although it provides very little coverage and has many limitations (eg. only allowed to use domestically produced medications, etc). People who have private insurance can be fully covered, but they are required to go to state-owned hospitals for treatment. There are essentially three categories of hospitals: state-owned, private (low-end), and private (high-end). Due to the minimal coverage of public insurance, it's often cheaper to go to the low-end private hospital which charges less but has very poor service.
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  • Failure of democracy in China: Some people would be surprised to hear that democracy actually exists in parts of China. Village elections occur in rural areas to choose local leaders; however, corruption is widespread. Candidates have no qualms about going door-to-door, bribing voters for support by promising them money. Winning candidates often misuse government money to create their own businesses and become very wealthy. Due to poor government transparency and accountability, villagers often do not realize they are being robbed. Once the elected leaders are wealthy enough to gain control over other important companies and even  the local police, most people do not dare to speak out against them in fear of losing their jobs and their own safety. The cycle continues in subsequent elections. The lack of law enforcement and third party auditing of government finances has allowed for rampant government corruption at the local level.
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  • Power of Netizens: With rapidly growing social media platforms like Weibo, Chinese citizens are taking it upon themselves to sniff out corrupt government officials. In one case, the Head of EHS (environment, health, and safety) was photographed at an accident site. Bloggers immediately noticed that he was wearing a luxury watch worth thousands of yuan and grew suspicious about how he could afford it with his public official salary. Their suspicions of corruption grew as they found other internet images of him wearing many different types of luxury watches. The flood of outraged netizens put pressure on the government to hold a press conference, in which the Head of EHS said that his son owned a company and gave him the watches as presents. This motivated netizens to start researching his son and eventually the government was forced to implement a full investigation. The official was eventually sued for bribery. (A related news article)
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  • Thoughts on Ai Wei Wei (Chinese artist famous for criticizing the Chinese government): Originally the Chinese public appreciated artists like Ai Wei Wei for having the courage to speak out about issues in China; however, many people now see him as a puppet for foreign countries to push their pro-democratic agenda onto China. Mr. Li doesn't view Ai Wei Wei's work as anything extraordinary, and believes he only gained recognition because of foreign support for his political thoughts. He is frustrated that the artist only focuses on all of China's weaknesses and doesn't recognize the many improvements that the country has made.
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  • Thoughts on China's political system: "Look at what happened to Eastern Europe when they adopted democracy - not much has improved. We've tried democracy at the village level and see how much it's been abused. The CCP has its drawbacks, but with a multi-party democracy things could be much worse. I prefer reform over revolution. I hope that China can move in the direction of the high efficiency government that Singapore has in place.I quite like the National party that's in power in Taiwan now. They believe in peace and cooperation with China, in contrast with the Democratic Party. The Democratic party was too aggressive in its mission to become democratic and was against a unified China. The years it was in power, the economy in Taiwan did poorly. 

China just wants its people to live peacefully as a unified nation. Right now it's not ready for democracy - society is not yet developed enough and would likely abuse the system like what we see at the village elections. There are many factors that cause this - the lack of understanding about the spirit of democracy, lack of education, and the fact that many people are still poor and act in self-interest.

For the government to improve, the most important requirement is third party auditing of its budget. There is also too much bureaucracy and lack of internal communication. It's not clear which offices have what responsibility, causing ambiguity and little accountability.

My concern is over how long China's strength will last. The CCP is changing, but we're not sure what direction its headed. We fear what happened to the Soviet Union and are wary of making the same mistakes."

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[China] After the quake

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[China] After the quake

“Please send your prayers to the children of Sichuan.”

Now that’s a strange thing to hear in a place like this. Confused, I looked up at the priest who uttered those solemn words. Crystal and I stood near the center of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, just having witnessed our first mass. What happened in my mother’s home province that could need prayer from people on the other side of the world?


May 12, 2008 – a deadly earthquake of 7.9 magnitude hit Sichuan, China, killing at least 68 000 people. 18 498 people were listed as missing, and 374 176 people were injured. At least 7000 schools collapsed due to poor construction. In one school alone in Beichuan county, 1 300 children and teachers were crushed to death. The entire town was completely demolished – mountains of rubble appearing where buildings once stood.

(http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/05/earthquake_damage_in_beichuan.html) (warning: some of these images are graphic)

Crystal and I were on the last stretch of our Eurotrip at the time. After hearing the unnerving words of the priest in Notre Dame, we hurried back to our hostel to look up what had happened. To our horror, we read about the destruction and saw images of it on the news. I was very worried since my mother’s entire family lives in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. Thankfully, after some frantic messaging, I found out that the earthquake did not hit the city hard and that they were all okay.

The effects of the Sichuan Earthquake were far-reaching. Within China, the entire country rallied together to help with relief efforts. Volunteers streamed in from all parts of the country to help rescue victims and rebuild. Massive amounts of donations flooded in from the entire world. I helped friends put on a fundraiser in local supermarkets to raise money for disaster relief, raising $4747 in two days. The Canadian government matched us dollar for dollar.

Since then, the Chinese government has been putting great effort into rebuilding the province. There has been both praise and criticism for how they have handled reconstruction and compensation for the thousands of people affected. It has already been 2 years since we saw the images of crushed bodies, rescue workers digging through rubble, and people in despair; however, I would like to share with you some of the personal accounts of people I met during my recent trip back to Sichuan. Their stories truly touched me and their spirit and strength continue to inspire me.

  • My aunt was in the office tower when the earthquake struck. As soon as she saw the water in the water jug start to move, she knew something was wrong. Everyone started running out of the buildings and pouring into the streets. Cellphone lines were completely jammed by the sheer volume of calls being sent out throughout the city. It took my uncle hours to contact my aunt to make sure she was safe. Out at the university, students and faculty slept out in the open for a week while aftershocks still occurred. No one felt safe enough to go back into the buildings.

“The whole country was moved. We had volunteers come from all over who wanted to help with the rescue efforts. I myself also wanted to go, but I was pregnant with your cousin at the time and your uncle had to work. After the earthquake, I find that people think differently now – about money, about family, and about life.”

  • Our tour to LeShan Giant Buddha was a few hours drive outside of Chengdu. Our bus driver had been one of the many volunteers after the earthquake, staying for about 100 days in the disaster zone. Our first tour guide, Xiao Liu, was a very blunt and humorous young woman. She started our tour with a simple request:

“All I ask is that you enjoy your time here. Many of you come from far away, and it is a very rare opportunity to see Sichuan’s beautiful scenery and history. Life is busy and hectic, but while you are here you have to truly be here – take in everything you see and keep them as your memories. Don’t be angered by small matters.”

She then shared with us what she saw 2 years ago:

“My simple wish is to buy a house and marry the man I love. I do not require much more than that. During the earthquake, our parked tour bus was shaken so much that it moved 2 meters. After one of the aftershocks, I witnessed a woman dressed in tattered clothing. Only two people in her family had survived when their house collapsed. She bought an entire batch of cooked ducks from a street seller, paying him 1000 RMB. She took one and gave the rest away. When asked why, she said, ‘I almost lost my life, what is money to me now?’”.

  • We were led through the LeShan Buddhist Temple by a second tour guide. Parts of the temple were still being repaired because of damages done by the earthquake even two years after. As we finished our walk through, our guide shared her thoughts with us:

“During the earthquake, there were only two things that I distinctly remember – one being the smell of medicine, two being the smell of dead bodies. Donate to the temple only as much as you are willing to. Do not let people pressure you into giving. To me, it does not matter if you come here believing in Buddha or not. The most important thing is for you to love your family and wish them peace and harmony.”

  • Our tour to Jiu Zhai Gou Valley (300 km north of Chengdu) took us into the beautiful mountains of Sichuan where the Aba Tibetan Qiang minority has been living for centuries. The Qiang minority is one of rich culture and tradition. What used to be a population of 200 000 people was dwindled down to 30 000 when the earthquake struck the Wenchuan and Beichuan area where they mostly reside.

On May 12, 2008, the sky turned black and the entire mountain began to shake. As large rocks fell around her bus, she had only a few thoughts on her mind:

“At one point I told myself that if the earthquake became any worse, I would rather jump into the river below. It would be better to drown than be smashed to death by boulders. I thought of my mother and my boyfriend and how much I would miss them. I also thought of how I spent all my life saving money, yet now I could not use any of it. I now know how important it is to cherish life and treat yourself well. Do not be afraid to spend money on things that make you and others happy. You only live once.”

What I learned in Sichuan, I will never forget. Find what is most important in your life and cherish it. Treat the people around you with love and respect. Life is too short to waste on trivial things, so live it to the fullest.

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